Whilst the fast-pace of life in London can at times seem impossible to escape, a small number of havens exist to provide Londoners with a space in which to discover the importance of a healthy body and mind.
We visited one such haven, to find out just how London is responding to the increasing demand for more nutritious and health-inspired eateries.
As the morning rays of sunlight stream in through the floor to ceiling windows of The Retreat Café (Fulham’s now not so well kept secret), Australian-born owner Kimberly Parsons shares her thoughts on how and why she came to be part of London’s wellness revolution.
Tell us a little about you and your wellness journey?
Born and raised in Australia to a British father and Sicilian mother, I was exposed to strong European influence. After qualifying as a Naturopath from Melbourne’s Southern School of Natural Therapies, I decided that it was time to explore my roots. I sold my naturopathic practice in Australian and took a leap, moving to Tuscany, Italy, where I lived and worked in a 15th century villa as an Au Pair. Inspired by the beautiful local produce and with a blossoming passion for fresh, nutritious cuisine, I sought opportunities to develop my culinary skills. Over the next couple of years I worked as a chef both in Tuscany and for a period in the French Alps, before moving to London in 2010.
For the first few years in London, I worked as a private chef in Notting Hill, during which time I published my first book; ‘Suitcases of Recipes’, a recipe-based memoir of my experiences in France and Italy. I then began working part time at The Power Yoga Company in Fulham.
How did the Retreat Café come to exist?
When I began working at TPYC, there were no secrets about my combined experience and passion for food and naturopathy. As if it were simply meant to be, I was offered the opportunity to open a café within TPYC. I had never dreamed of opening a café!
What was the thinking behind the Retreat Café?
I saw that an opportunity existed to offer a delicious, highly nutritious, organic where possible, vegetarian menu, and that I could use my educational background to build a strong foundation of trust; that everything on our menu would be naturopathically formulated and healthy in every sense. I wanted to offer an entirely gluten-free and sugar-free menu, which would never compromise taste. The café would be somewhere that Londoners could find more than just one or two really average gluten-free (but sugar-laden) options. I knew it was possible to achieve this in a beautiful, inspiring space, which is what we set out to create.
Why were these unique aspects of your offering so important?
As I naturopath I always felt that, despite London’s strong focus on fitness and value of an active lifestyle; the food side was lacking. I knew that it was just as important to be refueling with nutritious food, which is what I wanted to provide. It is also important to me that people connect with their own bodies and understand how it feels to experience nourishment, and that this happens best in an environment where you can sit, think and reflect. It’s something I’m very passionate about.
As we’re chatting, a van pulls up on the street below and Kim smiles and waves to Derek who is delivering fresh produce to The Retreat Café, direct from New Covent Garden Market.
What can London expect from a visit to the Retreat Café?
Firstly, an education on how amazing healthy food can taste! Whilst I started off doing all the cooking myself, we now have two off-site chefs who are nutritionally trained, and make conscious decisions about how to balance the nutritional content. All of our counter offerings are dairy-free, sugar-free and gluten-free, though we do include dairy items such as full-fat organic Greek yoghurt to serve with our homemade granola. The full-fat aspect is important for vitamin D and calcium absorption.
The menu includes a range of seasonal, vegetarian cuisine including superfood salads, sweet treats, freshly pressed juices and smoothies. We also have fun with ideas like the recently coined ‘Matcha Friday’, which inspired our ‘Matcharoons’!
Why do you think attitudes toward health and wellness are changing in London?
I think that people are starting to realise that the choices they make dictate just how they feel, but are tired of fad diets that don’t achieve the desired results. If you tell your body it can’t have something, it immediately craves it. We should be listening to our bodies and giving our bodies what they need. I think Londoners are beginning to get that.
Stores like the Whole Food Market have been instrumental in bringing about change. A lot more people have been exposed to what healthy living looks like. There’s a move away from the traditions of the full English breakfast and heavy pub lunch. It’s an organic process, a natural progression. For us, it’s not about pushing a lifestyle on people; it’s about being here for the people who are interested in living a healthy one. It feels right and so more Londoners will naturally go this way.
So, where to from here? What can London expect next?
We are so excited to be opening our second café in Soho at the end of May! We have partnered with Triyoga to create The Retreat Café take two! It’s been an amazing experience feeling out the new space and figuring out how to make this a special little retreat in an inherently busy place.
We’re also planning to expand into other yoga studios in London.
The pipedream though, is to expand into health retreats: a full escape from London for the ultimate, nutritionally-inspired, culinary experience. Watch this space!
The Retreat Café is open to all, and can be found upstairs at The Power Yoga Company on Lettice St, a short walk from Parsons Green tube station. The café is open 7 days a week: 7:30am – 9:30pm on weekdays, 8:30am – 7:30pm on weekends.